MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty quick thoughts from Minnesota’s 122-112 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night at Target Center.
1. After missing the longest stretch of games in his career, Karl-Anthony Towns returned to Target Center on Saturday night for his first home game since mid-December. Towns played Friday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers as well, but both games finished the same way: in a loss.
2. Minnesota has now dropped five straight games after a positive stretch that saw four wins in six games. The five losses have all come against teams with winning records, but the Wolves have struggled regardless, being competitive in only two of the five games.
3. Saturday night’s final score was much closer than the game itself would seem to indicate. At one point in the fourth quarter the Wolves had been outscored 52-28 in the second half of a game they led at halftime.
4. There was no stopping the combination of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, there was very little scoring against a tenacious Toronto defense that seemed to be able to place a hand on the basketball every time the Wolves gave them an opportunity to do so, and there was very little offensive output from Towns in the second half, who went scoreless in the second half.
5. Lowry and VanVleet combined to score 57 points for Toronto. VanVleet scored 29 on 7-of-8 from 3-point range, while Lowry totaled 28 points on 5-of-8 from deep. The Wolves had no answer for them, especially in the second half.
6. Coming out of the break, not only did the Wolves struggle offensively, but Lowry lit them up defensively as well. He finished with 17 of his 28 points in that quarter, and was tied with the Wolves in terms of quarter scoring when he checked out for the period.
7. “They’re strong. They use their body great in pick-and-rolls. If you get screened, you’re chasing,” coach Ryan Saunders said after the loss. “Those guys have done it for a while, too, where they’re able to keep you on their hip. They’re great finishers, too.”
8. The Raptors were the more physical team that dictated the flow of the game, particularly in the second half, and that was very evident. Lowry and others continued to push after made baskets for easy scores in semi-transition, and if that wasn’t happening, Toronto was getting plenty of open looks from beyond the 3-point arc.
9. The number of looks from deep the Raptors got wasn’t outlandish, or something that the Wolves can’t live with. Something that the Wolves cannot afford to have happen is the physicality to be drastically in the opponents favor, as it was on Saturday.
10. “If you try to just match an opponent’s physicality, it almost becomes a wash because that’s how they’re used to playing,” Saunders said of Toronto’s physicality. “We gotta get that with our group. With young teams, I think sometimes it does take a little bit of time. But we can speak on the process of growing up and maturing and getting on our way to becoming a good team in this league by getting used to that and really exceeding some of these veteran team’s physicality. Give that team credit.”
11. “If they come out and want to be aggressive, we’ve got to be just as aggressive,” Towns said. “If they want to be tenacious, we’ve got to be tenacious. If they want to throw punches, we’ve got to be willing to throw punches. I wouldn’t say we weren’t physical, I think tonight we were physical. We made it known that we wanted to be here, and I think there were just little things.
12. “When you’re playing a team like that, that’s won a championship, first off, and has unity and that chemistry with each other, they got to a point in the game where they saw a flaw in our pace, in our vibe, and they exploited it. For us, when we get to the next level, it’s about when someone hits you, you’ve got to be able to hit them back just as hard, or even better. And they did a great job when they got the lead of keeping it, and we just didn’t do a good job of retaliating. Not of a physical standpoint, just more of, at the end of the day, this is basketball, it’s very simple. Just put the ball in the basket and do a good job of retaliating that way.”
13. The Raptors are just as Towns described them, a championship team. The Wolves are trying to get there one day, but that day is still far off.
14. As for the things that went right for the Wolves, Andrew Wiggins turned in his first career triple-double, to the tune of 18 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds in the loss. This was the first game in his career that he had reached double-digits in the assist category.
15. His aggressiveness as of late hasn’t been as high as many would like it, and even on Saturday night it could have been a bit better, but his passing has unquestionably been something that’s improved throughout this season.
16. “I think it’s been he was involved in a number of pick and rolls,” Saunders said. “I thought he found the open man well. His teammates did a nice job of getting to spots, too, to give guys outlets.”
17. “It’s always been a goal of mine,” Wiggins said of the triple-double. “So, to get it done, hopefully there are more to come now.”
18. The other positive thing for Minnesota was the continued strong play of Jarrett Culver. Culver finished with a career-high 26 points in the loss on 8-of-16 shooting and an encouraging 6-of-9 at the free throw stripe. This marked the 11th consecutive game that Culver has scored 10 points or more in.
19. “I’ve told him since day one that I think he would take the next step when he found himself. He’s a good kid. He has to be aggressive and he has to be a bad boy out there,” Towns said of Culver. “When he learned how to do that I knew he was going to be something special. He’s shown that when he’s out there playing with a tenaciousness and an aggressiveness he’s very, very hard to handle.”
20. The Wolves will try and snap their five-game losing streak on Monday night at home against Denver. Talk to you then.